DEPUTY Prime Minister Michael McCormack has announced the Domestic Aviation Network Support program, originally due to end on 31 January 2021, will be extended for a further eight weeks.

“DANS has provided critical support for the aviation sector and the Australian government has decided to continue it until 28 March 2021 as economic momentum builds and airlines continue to add more flights to meet renewed demand,” Mr McCormack said.

“As we know, air travel was hit hard from the start of the outbreak, with the number of domestic passengers falling from 5.35m in January to just 344,100 in April.

“Airlines were grounding their fleets, capacity within the domestic network had fallen 92.5% with Virgin Australia down to just five flights per week between Melbourne and Sydney and Qantas operating less than 2% of its network.

“Government assistance was critical to maintaining a minimum level of aviation connectivity.”

Through the COVID-19 crisis, DANS — along with the Regional Airline Network Support program — has enabled more than 600,000 passengers to travel across our country, including essential workers in health care, social services and law enforcement.

DANS and RANS will continue to support essential freight movements around the country, providing critical access to healthcare equipment, education and mail and enabling numerous industries.

It was announced in September that RANS had been extended until 28 March 2021.

Mr McCormack said the government was also extending a 50% waiver of domestic air services charges for Regular Public Transport and aeromedical flights from 1 January 2021 to 31 March 2021.

“This will continue to help manage costs for airlines as they bring capacity back online and support more flights to be available sooner,” he said.

Other aviation support measures including The Australian Aviation Financial Relief Package, Regional Airlines Funding Assistance and Ex-Gratia Land Tax relief for leased federal airports will run to their scheduled timeframe of 31 December 2020.

Mr McCormack also announced the establishment of the Future of Aviation Reference Panel, to be chaired by Professor Patrick Murray, to consult the aviation industry on the recently released Issues Paper on the Future of Australia’s Aviation Sector.

Professor Murray, chair of the Aviation Safety Advisory Panel at the Civil Aviation Safety Authority and professor of aviation and logistics at the University of Southern Queensland, will be joined by expert panel members Adrianne Fleming OAM, Andrew Drysdale and Shannon O’Hara.

“Managing the challenges to aviation resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic will require industry, regulators, governments and the community to work together,” Mr McCormack said.